Twenty-Fourth Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute

Presentation of the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize

November 13, 2015, 11:00am-12:30pm
Symposium at the GHI 

The twenty-fourth Annual Symposium of the Friends of the GHI featured the award of the 2015 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize to Sarah Panzer (William and Mary), for her dissertation "The Prussians of the East: Samurai, Bushido, and Japanese Honor in the German Imagination, 1905-1945" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 2015). The prize selection committee was composed of Timothy Brown (chair), James Melton, and Lora Wildenthal. After introductory remarks by Simone Lässig, director of the GHI, the award ceremony was chaired by Peter Jelavich, President of the Friends of the GHI. After Peter Jelavich read the citation of the prize committee, the Stern Prize winner gave a brief lecture about her dissertation.

After thanking the friends for the prestigious award, Sarah Panzer gave an overview of her dissertation about German-Japanese transcultural engagement between the Russo-Japanese War and the end of the Second World War, which was visibly framed around the reception and emulation of Japanese martial culture. Although the discussion of the German-Japanese alliance during the Second World War has often centered on the formal diplomatic terms of the relationship, she argued that the cultural relationship merits further attention as the means by which many Germans learned about and became increasingly sympathetic to Japanese culture. Because the German-Japanese relationship after the Russo-Japanese War was not predicated on a formal colonial or imperial relationship, but rather on the basis of mutual interest, it generated a form of cultural reception that was significantly different from most other contemporary examples of transcultural engagement; rather than reifying markers of difference, as in Orientalism or Exoticism, this transcultural romanticism sought instead to identify the common values and principles shared between Germany and Japan.

Beginning with the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905, German interest in Japan increasingly gravitated towards images of martial masculinity as a means of explaining Japan's apparent success in modernizing without sacrificing its cultural identity. Even after the diplomatic rupture of the First World War and the German state's pivot towards China as its favored partner in East Asia, individuals and groups within Germany continued to advocate for Japan as a model of a sustainable synthesis between modernity and tradition. This tension between the policies of the German state and the public rhetoric about Japan came to a head in the context of the Manchurian Crisis of 1931, during which many organs of the German press quite explicitly threw their support behind Japanese aggression towards both Republican China and the League of Nations. German support for Japan in East Asia was thus well-established in the civil sphere by the early 1930s, and its increasing monopolization by the völkisch movement and the political right during the interwar era enabled a relatively smooth transition after 1933, even with respect to the problem of race. During the Second World War, images of Japan functioned in German propaganda as both a mirror of the supposedly shared martial character of the German and Japanese peoples and, especially after Stalingrad, as a model of heroic self-sacrifice for the German public to emulate.

The event concluded with the award of the prize, a brief comment from Fritz Stern, and an extensive question-and-answer session with the audience. Articles based on the dissertation will be published in the Spring 2016 issue of the GHI Bulletin.